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WAR ON TERROR: THE AFTERMATH: LETTERS FOR THE VANISHED; Four million bits of post pile up from twin towers of the dead.

Byline: ANTON ANTONOWICZ in New York

IT ACCUMULATES day by day, the mountain of mail destined for an address which no longer exists.

Destined for so many people who will never read the letters sent to them.

Yesterday we stood in the makeshift sorting office at New York's main post office. It is the place, here behind Penn Station and the Empire State Building, where they are handling all the World Trade Center's mail.

It is a huge site, 100 yards by 30 yards. It is makeshift because the WTC's own post office was damaged in the devastation.

There are 700 people here working in two 12-hour shifts. It is a monumental task in a place, they know, has become a dead letter drop for so many.

The center contained the addresses of 16,500 businesses - from giant banking corporations to small travel agencies to tiny cafes. And there are at least four million items waiting here.

Some two million letters have been collected by companies which have relocated their offices. But much will never reach its destination.

"It is so sad," says postal worker Emma Thoranton, who began delivering mail to the towers on the day they opened.

She worked the 110th to the 77th floors in the North Tower. The highest, the ones where the most people perished.

She said: "I knew so many of them. Each day since I open the newspaper and see another person I knew. We probably had contact with more of those workers than anyone."

She opens the latest paper showing, over four more pages, the faces of The Lost. "Oh no!" she says, "That lady there." Kerene Gordon, 42, food worker for Far Rockaway. "She was a lovely woman. She worked on Floor 101. We'd always have a joke together. And now..."

Emma turns away, filing yet more mail in pigeon-holes.

"Any mail that isn't picked up will be held for three months and then marked 'Return to Sender - Unclaimed'. It's heartbreaking knowing so much won't be received," she said.

We are allowed to photograph only two letters up close. The first is for Stacey Grant, a worker on the 23rd Floor of North Tower. I phone her office at Blue Shield, a medical insurance company. "Yeah, she's okay," a switchboard operator tells me after consulting a list of survivors. "She made it."

I try the firm for James Sedwick an employee for NE Inc on Floor 98. But there is no reply.

I try Aon Services, where Richard Fraser worked on Floor 92. They apologise and say he is among the missing.

Patricia McGovern,the US Mail's Chief Press Officer, is near to tears: "Letters are about as close as you get to human contact. Each of these has a name on it. Yes, much of it is business mail - cheques, legal letters, bills.

"But God alone knows how many stories are lying there. How many personal thoughts sitting in this colossal mound. How many simple expressions of love which will never be heard." Emma adds: "It was like a family up there. One guy turned up to collect his father's mail yesterday. His dad, another man I knew, is missing. I just hugged his boy and cried."

Each sorted pile reflects the number of casualties. Stockbroker Julien Studley on the 86th Floor of North Tower has some 120 letters waiting. "No one's showed," Emma says.

It is the same for the Telephone Company on Floor 81. Television giant NBC on Floor 104 still has scores to collect. So does the Department of Tax and Finance on Floor 86.

"We're looking at a vital part of the economy," says Cary Appenzeller, another sorter. "There are people expecting cheques, awaiting revenue. So much we all take for granted, just lying here." Thomas Finan lifts an armful of paper. "It's never-ending," he said. "We expect to be receiving mail for the towers for a year at least. A lot of the companies would have been on computerised mailing-shots.

"It's gonna take some time for all of those to be amended."

Rafael Feliciano rifles through the South Tower's mail. He said: "There were a lot of nice folks up there and some a little extra nice.

"I loved that building. You had everything there. A city in itself - banks, stores, everything. And now all gone.

"I was devastated. I didn't think I'd come back to work. I went to counselling which the company has laid on. But yeah, I'm back. I guess it keeps me from thinking too much.

"Then suddenly people's faces come to mind. People I'll never see or speak with again."

He, like all the other postmen and women, were in their office on Church Street, across the road from the site, when the buildings were hit.

Rafael said: "The windows vibrated and we all evacuated the post office. People were mesmerised, looking up, openmouthed.

''Then the second plane exploded into the tower and it's like a nightmare, the worst special effects you could imagine. We just ran and ran. And now, we're running from memories of good, everyday people who'll never open their letters again."

By sheer luck none of the postal officers was in the devastated center. Tuesday's mail is among the lightest of the week and they would have begun deliveries at 10.30am. They thank God for that.

And so do many others. Among the piles are letters addressed to them from fellow workers throughout the United States.

Gurmeet Singh, a Sikh who emigrated from New Delhi, sits exhausted by yet one more stack.

He said: "I never thought I'd have to do a job like this. What before were just letters now seem to be something more. Something far more human. Something more personal."

And, out front, a queue of people patiently wait to collect just some of this colossal stockpile.

The line is quiet, sombre like so many queues in this city.

The collection point is open 24 hours, seven days a week.

But soon - just before Christmas with all its traditional cards and seasonal greetings - there will be another delivery.

One marked "Return to Sender - Unclaimed."


UNCLAIMED: Letters for businesses; SADNESS: Post worker Tom Finan yesterday; TRAGIC TASK: Part of the huge backlog of mail, pigeon-holed in the New York sorting office yesterday Pictures: ROGER ALLEN
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 25, 2001
Previous Article:Shelley Vision: Sincere we go again..

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